Enjoy an endless summer surf sessions with stripers on the beach.
The last thing a lot of Jersey surf anglers think of through the summer months is striped bass. Most likely by mid to late June, the main mass of spring run stripers will have moved up to New England in search of cooler water temperatures. Usually, summer months mean surf anglers switch over to fluke, sharks, bonito and cocktail bluefish, even as striped bass lurk in the shadows of the summer moonlight.
Throughout the early part of summer, and right up into the dog days of July and August, surf striped bass that remain feed aggressively, though it’s usually under the guise of darkness and pre-dawn sunlight.
Fact is, summer stripers in the surf is a near guarantee if you put your time in and prepare accordingly.
Before The Rooster Crows
When targeting early morning surf stripers, you want to be up out of the house and casting into the suds well before the rooster crows. During June, sunrise will fall around the 6:30 a.m. timeframe – that means when the sun actually breaks the horizon over the Atlantic. If you get to the beach when the sun has broken the horizon, the party’s already over. You really need to be on that beach by 4 a.m., which will give you a good 2 hours of solid bass fishing before the sun comes up.
Stripers will feed in the dark and false dawn light as they wake up and fill their appetites for the day. I’ve also found that they will chew from 8 p.m. to midnight, and generally find the midnight to 3 a.m. timeframe devoid of any action, save for the unicorn cow trophy bass lurking around. Fish will strike at lures all the way up to the sunrise, but generally shut off within 15 minutes after that. That’s not to say you won’t catch a few more at sunup, but the majority of fish will bend rods in the darkness. Dark hours allow for the cool summer nights to dip the surface water temps and spark the bite while the searing heat of the daytime keeps them sluggish.
Tackle To Target
Generally speaking, most of the summer surf stripers in June through August are smaller in stature. You’re looking at fish from 24 inches to maybe 36 inches. Early June, larger migratory fish to 30 or 40 pounds can still be found at random, though the majority of smaller fish through the heat of the summer are best matched with lighter tackle. Rods and reels don’t need to be oversized and overmatched to the species.
I use a 7-foot, 6-inch St. Croix TIS76MHF matched with a Shimano Stradic 5000 spinning reel spooled with 30-pound Power Pro braid with a 4-foot section of 25-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader tied via uni-to-uni knot. On the tag end, a 40-pound Duolock snap swivel or TA Clip is tied via improved clinch knot. Notice how none of that tackle is geared toward large fish. The light setup is all you need to effectively work lighter lures and plant the hook in the mouth of a small to mid-size bass.
Lures & Presentation
Half the fun of fighting summer bass is that you’re doing it with light tackle and small lures. Top lures that highlight my pre-dawn striper sessions include a variety of shapes and sizes. The black or blurple (black and purple) Bomber A-Salt is my number one huckleberry for dark hour stripers. Usually a dropper loop is tied 18 inches above the lure to affix a 2/0 white bucktail hair teaser. Small white or silver 3- to 4-inch paddletails from Storm, Tsunami, NLBN or RonZ are key. Leadheads and bucktails of half- to 3/4-ounce can be tipped with 4 to 5-3/4-inch Fin-S fish in Arkansas Shiner, Rainbow trout, Albino Shad and Bubble Gum Ice color patterns.
Right before the sun cracks the horizon, a small 4-inch popper from Stillwater or Tsunami Talkin’ Popper will rattle the bass. Bass are eagerly feeding at this witching hour, but the key to success is working a plug with an ultra-slow presentation; one crank of the reel per second is a good rule to follow. The slow rolling wobble of a plug is simply too much for a bass to pass up and strike. Many times if you reel too fast, the plug will get tail-slapped or mouthed, keep reeling in slower, and many times the bass will come back. Doubleheaders on the plug and teaser are not uncommon at this time. Light jigheads and bucktails are cast out and bounce-hopped back with light subtle twitches. Poppers can be gurgled with small pulls to elicit a strike.
When Orion Fades
This mantra is grabbed from a chapter in my book – The Jersey Surf Diaries. “When Orion Fades” describes the time the bite generally slows down to a crawl and stops. Fishing along the northern and central Jersey coasts, the coastline faces straight east and the constellation Orion is high in the sky above you during the night, but around sunrise, it lays behind you a little off your right shoulder as it disappears into the newborn blue atmosphere. If I don’t have a watch on me to tell time, it’s a telltale sign the bite is about to shut off. If I see Orion in the sky, the bite will still be good. When it fades over my shoulder and I cannot see the stars sparkle, I am ready to go grab breakfast and coffee at Betty and Nicks.
When you are into fish, pre-dawn outings can dial you into sometimes up to a dozen fish or more, but generally my log book notes an average of three to seven fish on a sojourn. Considering most anglers believe there is no striper activity happening in the surf during the summer, it’s refreshing to tangle with linesiders over the Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day holidays while waiting for the bombastic fall run to come.
Enjoy the summer surf striper sessions!